Busoni was one of the most
important musicians of his generation: as composer, pianist,
theorist, writer and teacher. He was among the finest pianists
of a period rich in fine pianists, and his compositions for
his own instrument inevitably lie at the centre of his creative
In 1907 he composed his collection
of Seven Elegies (1907), claiming that they represented an important
milestone in his development as a musician. Stylistically they
reflect his creative preoccupations, with complex harmony, rich
contrapuntal textures and expressive chromatic harmonies. Each
of these pieces is a veritable tone poem along the lines established
by Franz Liszt a generation before, and in several cases the
point of reference is the Lutheran chorales which so often inspired
Busoni’s favourite composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. Busoni explained: ‘I have expressed the
very essence of myself in these Elegies. My intention is not
to overthrow something existing, but rather to recreate something
Pöntinen’s CPO recital begins with
the Elegies and is dominated by them. And rightly so, for this
is important music by a master pianist-composer. Each of these
pieces shares a common agenda yet has its own distinctive personality.
Pöntinen knows and understands this.
His playing is sensitive and strong, and the CPO recording supports
his attention to detail with good, clear sound. The ongoing
project of the talented British pianist Paul Lewis (for Harmonia
Mundi) will offer a fierce rival,
but Pöntinen remains very satisfying, supported by excellent and
other items are, on the whole, rather slighter. The exception
is the Prelude and Fugue, work of towering virtuosity, and again
inspired by the example of Bach. Conceived as part of a larger
project, this piece stands magnificently on its own, the most
powerfully extrovert music on this disc. Not that the other
items are negligible. The Seven Short Pieces are contemporary
with the Prelude and Fugue, forming part of Busoni’s Klavier-übung
(Keyboard Practice), a veritable opus summus.
In that sense the self-effacing title is a little misleading,
for while none of the pieces extend to a lengthy span, their
implications can be greater than their size. That is the challenge
facing the performer, and it is a challenge that Pöntinen, as by now we might expect, can meet.
remaining item is more of a trifle, the infectious Perpetuum
Mobile of 1921. Interestingly, this is practically contemporary
with Poulenc’s Mouvements Perpetuelles, though the style is rather different.